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  • Melissa Griffing

Talking to your Kids about Body Safety

Updated: Sep 20



I’m going to start with a scary statistic because I want to press upon you the importance of this topic. According to the CDC, at least 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse or neglect in the past year. That means when you walk into a classroom of 14 kids, there’s a potential for 2 of them to experience abuse or neglect. Talking to your kids about keeping their bodies safe can be an uncomfortable topic. Too often I hear things like, “I don’t know how to have the conversation” or “I don’t want to scare my child.” In the same breath, I hear too often about abuse that happened and the parents had never spoken to their kids about keeping their bodies safe. This is not to say that speaking to your kids will guarantee abuse will never happen, but it is an important part of helping prevent it from happening altogether. Providing your kids with appropriate education is one of the most effective ways of keeping them safe. This conversation provides your child with language to talk about tough topics like sexual abuse if they ever need to. Whether you have a girl or boy, you should be having this conversation with your child, not just once, but several times throughout different developmental stages.


Tips for talking about body safety


First start by setting a safe space for you and your kids to talk about this hard conversation. The first time you have a body safety talk with your kids, you will want to plan it. Set aside some uninterrupted time. Make sure you are giving your full attention. You might start by asking open ended questions like, "What do you know about keeping your body safe?". Use active listening to ensure your child feels heard and safe to ask questions. Make sure your say the information you need your child to know in a matter-of-fact, calm way. For more on how to have hard conversations with your kids, click here. Now that you have set the scene, check out these steps below:



Teach your kids to trust their emotions


When we teach kids to embrace their emotions, we are building resilient and attuned people. An easy way to do this is by reflecting feelings. I wrote a blog here about how to reflect feelings. This is a foundation skill for almost everything in life. For people to cope with anxiety or anger, they must recognize that they are feeling anxious or angry. This skill also helps kids keep themselves safe by recognizing when someone or something feels unsafe. This will be their cue to leave or ask a trusted adult for help.



For young kids, use books


Reading kid-friendly books about keeping their own bodies safe is a great way to open the conversation. The author has already thought of the best ways to word things, taking a level of stress for parents out of the conversation. Some books I like are My Body Belongs to Be by Dagmar Geisler, I Said No by Kimberly King, and God Made All of Me by Justin Holcomb (this last one is Christian based).


Use atomically correct vocabulary


Yes, this does mean you are using words like “vagina” and “penis” with your child of any age. There is a good reason for this. A common tactic of grooming is to use “cute” names or “pet” names to make sexual acts more comfortable and accessible. For example, people might use names like “pee-pee” or something more obscure like “flower.” This provides the perpetrator with a level of protection because it makes it harder for a child, especially young children, to communicate what might be going on. Teach your kids the appropriate names so it is more clear if your child should need to tell you something.


Talk about what to do if your child finds themself in an unsafe situation



Pick 3-5 trusted adults they can turn to in case you aren’t around. Pick a teacher or two at school, maybe a trusted mom friend, or relative. Let your kids know that if they ever feel unsafe to walk away and find someone they trust to tell. My son asked me what he should do if he couldn't find a trusted adult. I replied that I would never put him in a place where there was only one adult, but if he couldn’t find someone, he should tell me immediately when he saw me next.


Teach your kids to ask for permission before touching someone



The easiest way to do this is through modeling. For example, you can ask your child, “Can I hold your hand?” or if your child wants to hug a friend, instruct them to ask permission first. On that note, NEVER insist a child hug an adult or family member. Phrases like, “give grandma a hug” make it difficult for young children to say no. Instead, ask if your child would like to give a hug. Hugging and kissing should always be an option. Teach your kids to politely say, “no.”


Give your kids language to say, “no”


Kids should always have this option. If they don’t want to hug someone, teach them that they can politely say, “no, thank you” or can offer a handshake if they feel comfortable with that. However, it is always okay for a child to refuse hugs or kisses flat out. In a more serious situation, teach your kids to use their voice by saying firmly and loudly, “Stop!” or “No, I don’t like that!” You might even role-play this by asking your kids what they would say if someone tried to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Have them stand up and firmly repeat the above phrases.


Discuss the difference between secrets and surprises



In short secrets are never okay. Secrets should never be kept in any situation. Surprises on the other hand are fine. The difference is a secret is something you never share, and surprises are something everyone finds out quickly and usually make people happy.


Have this conversation more than once, adding to it with each developmental stage


For example when you speak to your 3-year-old about body safety, I would suggest you keep it pretty general. Tell them no one touches their private parts unless it’s a trusted adult helping with the potty or changing a diaper. When you speak with your 10-year-old, you will want to go in greater depth and start talking about healthy relationships. My 5-year-old is starting to go to carefully selected trusted families for a couple of hours at a time whether it is a play date or a relative’s house. If it is the first time he is going to someone’s house, or even just occasionally as a reminder, we have a quick conversation about appropriate touch, body safety, and what to do if he feels unsafe. The point is we have repeated and ongoing conversations.


Teach your kids about body safety when they are around friends too


As adults, we tend to focus on keeping kids safe from adults. However, unfortunately, kids can be perpetrators too. Remind your child that no one, not even one of their friends, is to see or touch their private parts and that they are not to see or touch other friends' private parts. You can encourage them to use the same language to say, “no” as discussed in number 8. Also, teaching kids how to walk away is good too. Whether or not a friend or adult stops after your child says, “no,” your child should still walk away and immediately tell a trusted adult.

For more help with talking to your kids, feel free to contact one of our therapists at WellNest Counseling. If you suspect abuse, you can report the information here.


References:

Child sexual abuse: Talking to children 0-11 years. Raising Children Network. (2020, May 25). Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/safety/child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-talking-to-children


Motherly, J. S. (2017, December 12). 10 ways to talk to your kids about body safety and consent. HuffPost. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-ways-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-body-safety-and_b_5a2ad642e4b022ec613b81cb


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